Mutant Year Zero: Seed of Evil DLC Review
Mutant Year Zero: Seed of Evil, the downloadable expansion to last year’s surprisingly challenging XCOM-esque tactics RPG Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, is an expansion in its simplest, most direct form: there’s simply more of it. While Seed of Evil makes tweaks and changes to the original formula, they feel very safe and don’t do as much to evolve the gameplay as one might have hoped.
Picking up where Road to Eden left off, Seed of Evil advances the overarching Mutant Year Zero story but quickly pulls a bait-and-switch by diverting to a new, self-contained mystery where your party of mutant stalkers fights an army of plant-based clones threatening the last vestiges of humanity. While I got a bit of proverbial whiplash from the quick, jerky nature Seed of Evil wrestles out of Road to Eden’s cliffhanger ending, the story ultimately does a good job creating some new mystique in a world you’ve already explored.
In case you missed it: Watch our review of the base game above, or read the full thing here.
As in many expansions, Seed of Evil’s new threat changes how existing areas in the world look, albeit in a superficial way. When you return to the arc, the town and story hub, you find it covered in vines, and that some shopkeepers look and behave differently. Like Road to Eden, your interactions with these characters have personality but never feel like more than flavor text. There is a little storytelling that’s worth paying attention, but you’ll miss it if you aren’t careful; the dialogue among your party members that’s spoken as you explore, much of which focuses on the events on the mystery, breathes more life into your mission and the characters than anything else.
The short expansion, which took me about six hours, distinguishes itself from the original with about eight or nine new snowy areas, which vary enough to keep things interesting while pushing through the campaign but feature a very familiar blend of overgrown nature and derelict technology that borders on samey in larger context of Mutant Year Zero as whole. Moreover a bunch of small gameplay wrinkles, like new weapons and upgradeable character abilities to further your party’s growth. On the other side, more powerful enemies bring new challenges. For the most part, these changes do present new ideas that could add new obstacles and opportunities in battle, but very few of them have the punch to alter how you strategize and fight, especially after learning effective techniques from playing through the entire Road to Eden campaign.
Despite this, I was surprised to find that it was easy for me to return to Mutant Year Zero. As I mentioned in my Road to Eden review, Mutant Year Zero’s combat had a bit of a learning curve. It demands aggressive play and felt a bit counterintuitive at first. Jumping back into the expansion more than six months later, I found, was like riding a bike. I had one or two shakey fights, but found myself back in the swing of things in no time – in part because so little has truly changed.
Mutant Year Zero’s progression, a small skill tree where you earn customizable mutations and upgrades, still falls flat in Seed of Evil. New upgraded versions of special abilities for each character ought to have added variety, but most of the upgrades simply improves each ability’s strength without adding new functionality, so the fundamental choice over whether to use one attack over the other remained the same and few new tactical options opened up. Likewise, I found new weapons and upgrades that improved my build, such as a new pistol that could destroy enemy cover from further range than anything in my Road to Eden arsenal, but these things did not confer such strong advantages that I decided to rethink my general loadout and pre-game strategy.
The same goes for the new set of enemies, called Pod Ghouls, who have some of the mutant powers your team uses, including the ability to jump across the map and tangling your legs with roots to prevent you from moving. Facing gangs of enemies who all have these specific powers definitely requires you to change your approach, but the idea of fighting mutants instead of humans never felt as revelatory as I thought it should: There are enemies in Road to Eden who have abilities as well, and here I never fought an enemy team whose AI knew how to combine its powers in novel ways.
The most noticeable change – and the most effective – is Big Khan, a half-man, half-moose who joins your party early on. Since Seed of Evil is post-campaign content, Big Khan appropriately feels more powerful than your other party members: He has a pair strong special moves — a wide-reaching ground pound attack and fire breath — and proved himself to be the best all-around fighter in my crew. He doesn’t have much to add to the story, but you may actually want to disrupt whatever team you used to finish Road to Eden to take advantage of his powers, which is something of an achievement given how easy it is to find your optimal team and stick with it.
Though its innovations mostly fall flat, Seed of Evil retains the nail-biting, tough-as-nails tactical experience at the heart of Mutant Year Zero. Finding the best way to start a fight and finish it takes careful forethought and planning, and the challenge is amped up a notch or two. All of your enemies have at least a few levels on you, making them highly durable. Moreover, many of the battles in the new areas are extremely long, with multiple waves of enemies. (As with Road to Eden, save-scumming is highly encouraged.) Picking the right place to start an attack, giving yourself a favorable position and a clear path to advance and contain your opponents is more essential than ever. Completing each story mission made me feel like I’d left it all out on the field, so to speak.
In addition to new maps, your team sporadically gets calls directing you to areas from the main campaign, which have been repopulated with new enemies and rewards. It’s blatant padding, meant to make a five-hour expansion look more substantial, but Seed of Evil benefits from giving you opportunities to grind for resources and get back into the groove with some battles.